[Dixielandjazz] Another view of "Tribute" Bands

Rob McCallum rakmccallum at hotmail.com
Mon Nov 3 13:16:31 PST 2003

Hi Steve and everyone,

Gee, James gets criticized for everything he does and doesn't do.  I haven't
heard this disk, but I've heard some of his other recordings (like
Conversin' with the Elders) that have been construed as "rehashing."  Part
of this lack of a "jazz vision" which this critic bites him for is, I think,
a result of his musical upbringing.  As a kid he was surrounded by
entrenched Detroit hard-boppers (who feel the same way about hard bop that
Marsalis feels about Ellington and blues i.e. it's the only "real" jazz).
He was picked up by Wynton when he was in his teens, fired by Wynton, while
still in his teens, then lambasted by Wynton for working with Lester Bowie.
I've seen him (and I'm sure I've said this before), sitting in with the
SunRa Arkestra, playing way out free jazz, and I've heard him in watered
down mainstream settings, in addition to some wonderful blowing sessions at
hole in the wall clubs.  I believe that his vision is that of remaing mostly
true to the repetoire (which in his thinking includes Lester Bowie as well
as Lester Young), and letting all these different approaches merge together
and come out in his own playing.

When you hear him live in a relaxed setting, just blowing, I can't see how
anyone could possibly accuse him of not having his own voice.  Hell, he can
play Lester Leaps In, and you know it's him in one bar.  Does Eric Alexander
(who to me, sounds like everyone that you've ever heard and does not have a
distinctive sound) get criticized like this?  Probably not, but that's
probably because some people, like this critic, expect something earth
shattering to come from James because they sense that if anyone is going to
do something "new," and have it viewed as "legitimate" jazz (rather than
some kind of fusion), it will be him.  I think that's silly.  James has his
own way of playing and if this guy can't hear it, then maybe he should learn
to play an instrument and try and contribute something.  Perhaps Columbia is
too commercial a label, as the critic suggests, but maybe the truth is that
James is not looking to be the great "innovator" that this guy wants him to
be.  I find it ironic that, after accusing him of  copying the past, he
makes the suggestion that James should go listen to someone else.

Well, enough ranting from me (for now),

Rob McCallum

Snips from the article:

> This guy (James Carter) and a bunch of his peers are so busy tipping the
hat to those
> cherished icons, they've almost completely abandoned music that reflects
> and embodies the present. They're pursuing a long-lost, gentle-age
> ideal, and stubbornly refusing to engage what's happening around them.
> Maybe the tribute disease is a lingering side-effect of jazz's
> transition from club to concert hall, where the all-star
> honor-the-greats show is a sure draw. Or perhaps it's another symptom of
> the fear that defines the record business: Today's executives will talk
> earnestly all day long about the important legacy of John Coltrane, but
> seem disinclined to subsidize the work and development of the next
> influential thinker.
>  Add them up, and these tributes begin to look like a threat to the very
> health of the form.
> Weighed down with the baggage of history, obligated to it in ways those
> who made the history never were, the jazz musician is now stuck
> rehashing (or, in some cases, regurgitating) the old glories, hoping
> that the mere association with a legend will generate sufficient luster
> - or lucre.
> Those who have followed Carter's career, which began in the early '90s
> with several records that mixed standards and thoughtful original
> compositions, cannot be cheered by Gardenias.
> After all, his previous release, in 2000, consisted of two discs, one an
> intermittently interesting electric jam, the other a skillfully
> understated homage to guitarist Django Reinhardt titled Chasin' the
> Gypsy. Though he's been touted as a major talent, Carter hasn't put
> together a collection that displays his vision of a jazz future. If you
> believe the hype, he's a promising firebrand. If you listen to the
> music, you hear him pouring that promise into routine evocations of
> stuff that's been done, and done better, before.
> To be fair, the decision might not be all Carter's. The jazz-record
> business is one of slim margins in the best of times, and lately the
> major labels haven't been eager to subsidize new composition-based
> projects. His new label, Columbia, might not have pressured Carter to do
> something "classic." But surely the Gardenias concept - like that of
> similarly themed "celebrations" cluttering the new-release rack this
> year, from Bette Midler (!) singing Rosemary Clooney to trombonist Steve
> Turre pondering the influence of slideman J.J. Johnson - was easy for
> those who sign the checks to fathom. Hardly a recipe for art.
> Carter would do well to study Pat Martino's screaming new Think Tank
> (Blue Note ***1/2). The Philadelphia-based guitarist has said that
> Coltrane was an inspiration for the music, which contains knotty chord
> sequences that distantly suggest the master's "sheets of sound" period,
> as well as freer explorations built on the simple modes the saxophonist
> used later in his development.
> But there's never the sense that Martino and his all-star crew -
> Philly-native bassist Christian McBride, saxophonist Joe Lovano (whose
> discography includes canny tributes to Sinatra and Enrico Caruso, among
> others), pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and drummer Louis Nash - are out to
> redo anything the legend did. Instead, they cultivate an atmosphere of
> daring, and brighten each of Martino's compositions with a hint of
> irreverence.
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